So here is my prediction for Australia's Federal election this Saturday.
When the hard analysis is done, whoever wins, my prediction is that the campaign against Emily's List and other pro-abortion candidates will be shown to have had exactly the opposite of the intended effect.
I'd love to be proved wrong on this. But I don't think I will be, and I think it is time to start the conversation about why things have reached this point.
Abbott on abortion last night
Someone actually tackled Tony Abbott on abortion last night at the Bronchos Club forum, and eventually elicited the response that 'Federal intervention on abortion was not his policy'.
That's not surprising for two reasons: first it reflects the assessment being made by all parties that opposition to abortion is more of a vote loser than a vote winner. That's why something like Emily's List can even exist, why candidates are so coy about stating their actual views on life issues.
Secondly, it is unclear just how strong Mr Abbott's position on the issue actually is, given past statements that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" (a position that frankly doesn't seem a million miles away from that of Ms Gillard whose 'pro-choice' position is rationalised on the basis that unless abortion is legal "Women without money would be left without that choice or in the hands of backyard abortion providers").
In fairness, Mr Abbott did actually take some action as Health Minister to attempt to persuade women not to abort. Whether his Government if he were elected PM would do something along the same lines though is unclear - presumably it depends on who ends up being Health Minister. Certainly there is no stated policy to that effect.
Understanding the psychology of abortion supporters
The Catholic Church's position is simple: abortion is murder and should be opposed as such.
But just because we (few) understand this does not mean that we should automatically condemn all those who support abortion being legal as supporters of murder. Objectively that is the case. But subjectively, not always (or even mostly).
We should not forget the human capacity for self-deception, and the capacity to be deceived by the prevailing cultural constructs.
It is true of course that people often do instinctively understand that abortion is wrong - that's one of the reasons why vigils in front of abortion clinics and such like measures can have an effect.
But God gives us revelation to supplement and act as a corrective for the operation of reason, to make clear the natural law, because of our consistent ability to get things badly wrong when left to ourselves (especially when helped along by malign influences).
And our society has managed to come up with a variety of rationalisations and ways of seeing abortion as not only not murder, but as something that is perfectly acceptable in the cause of preserving one of our society's touchstones, namely (the illusion of) personal control over one's destiny.
A little psychology
Seriously constructed world views will not be shattered just by calling something what it is - on the contrary, doing so typically leads to attempts to fend off the attack through demonisation of the perceived enemy (ie the persons who threaten to undermine your cosy worldview).
We need to remember some basic psychology: people do behave in irrational and destructive ways and even believe that they are correct to do so when the culture they are brought up in teaches them that what they are doing is correct. And the first reaction to any 'cognitive dissonance' that we can induce is to reject the new and contradictory information that is provided, and engage in justification, blame and denial.
I would venture to suggest, for example, that most (but not all) of those supporting Emily's List do not see further liberalizing access to abortion as its primary objective, but rather increasing the proportion of female MPs committed to a feminist agenda (and that may seem a subtle difference, but it is an important one).
So how do we change the game?
There are ways of changing perceptions about abortion.
Mr Abbott is probably right for example in implicitly arguing that an outright ban is not feasible until we create the environment where abortion is seen for what it is. There are lessons to be learnt, for example from health protection strategies that have turned around views on things like tobacco use and made it possible to ban smoking from public places indoors and out.
Shock tactics can be useful: stories from people whose parents were advised to abort them; dissemination of pictures of children in the womb; and so forth. But it is the intellectual battle, swaying hearts and minds that ultimately has to come into play, and name-calling is counter-productive in this.
We also need to keep in mind that until we tackle the real underlying issue of the proper use of sexuality, we are tackling symptoms not causes. And putting abortion in the context of the whole web of cultural practices that flow from contraception and the detachment of sex from reproduction is a much harder challenge to tackle. Cases such as that of the current prosecution for murder of the Australian sportwoman who had two abortions, adopted out two children, and allegedly murdered another after birth, though, can help expose the logical inconsistencies of our society's mores.
Pro-life advocates might also be well advised to focus on the web of supporting policies that are needed as well: making adoption easier and a socially accepted alternative for mothers, for example; and focusing on supporting the economics of large families through housing, childcare and other policies.
Some lessons for the pro-life movement
There is of course a certain horror that we have to face in the idea of tolerating even for a moment the holocaust of abortion once you see it for what it is. But we need, I think to understand the veil that clouds the minds of our society on this subject, and understand that changing that will not happen overnight just by shouting loudly enough.
The early Christians had to work slowly and gradually to stop horrors such as the exposure of children at the whim of Roman fathers, converting people one by one to Catholicism. I think we too need to understand that winning the war on abortion really requires winning the war against secularism in general, and requires evangelization on all aspects of our beliefs: understanding the truth on life issues is much easier when we reject relativism in general and understand the fullness of truth.
This will not be a popular post with many in the pro-life movement.
But I hope it provokes some serious thought.
In particular, I would argue that a little toning down of the shrill rhetoric will help the cause not hinder it.